Where animals teach humans about their life in the wild


In some ways, the daily scene outside this specialty E.R. resembles other hospitals, with cars rushing into the parking lot to bring in sick and injured patients.
But at Walnut Creek’s Lindsay Wildlife Experience, a nationally renowned museum and wildlife hospital, the arriving patients are native birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, tucked in cardboard boxes or wrapped in towels and blankets and carried by humans. On a recent day, it was a worker for a tree-trimming company who delivered a young, severely injured red-tailed hawk.
The veterinary staff meet the patients outside, assess their condition, then bring them into the hospital, where they do all they can to save them. If the animals make it through the first 24 hours, they have an 80 percent chance of survival. Staff aim to rehabilitate and return these patients to their habitats, al though some won’t be able to go back, due to injuries, such as damaged wings, that would make it impossible for them to hunt or to escape predators.
Some of these rehabbed patients who can’t return to the wild stay on at Lindsay as “Animal Ambassadors.” They’re the real stars of the museum, with their survival stories providing insights into Bay Area native species and the challenges they face from people encroaching on their habitats.
The Lindsay museum was founded in 1955 by Alexander “Sandy” Lindsay, a nature enthusiast who collected local specimens in his garage. Today, the museum is housed in a gleaming, 28,000-square-foot building at the edge of Walnut Creek’s Larkey Park that includes the hospital, exhibit hall, educational program space and a growing number of indoor and outdoor aviaries for its resident owls, hawks, a bald eagle and other raptors.
When the hospital opened in 1970, it was the first of its kind in the United States and remains the largest such rehabilitation center in the country. It treats more than 5,000 injured, sick or orphaned wild animals each year, as part of the museum’s mission “to connect people with wildlife to inspire responsibility and respect for the world we share.”
For the 100,000 children and adults who visit each year, meeting the animal ambassadors is the highlight of their trip. Here are three must-sees.
Dragon, the White-tailed Kite
Graceful, snow-white hawks like Dragon get their name from the way they hover, kitelike, over open fields, scanning for prey.
Dragon first came to the Lindsay hospital in 2017, as a young bird fallen from her nest. She did well enough during her brief stay that she appeared ready to return to the wild. But two months later, the unusually docile kite was back after a collision with a building window left her with a neurological injury. With her piercing call and eyes that will turn blood red at full maturity, Dragon continues to undergo treatment and rehabilitation at Lindsay.
Tyro, the albino rattlesnake
Tyro had a couple of strikes against him before he arrived at the hospital in 2018 – the first being that he’s a Northern Pacific rattlesnake. A homeowner who discovered him in a backyard violently attacked him with a tree trimmer, apparently driven by misplaced fears about rattlesnakes’ danger to humans. In fact, rattlesnakes tend to be shy and do all they can to avoid people.
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In his enclosure at the Lindsay, Tyro is a calm and curious snake, who rarely rattles to signal he feels threatened, even if his keepers are cleaning nearby enclosures. Instead, he often raises his head to “periscope” – to watch and see what’s going on. “He’s a survivor,” says wildlife encounters manager Lauren Amy.
Atsa, Bald Eagle
Atsa is one of Lindsay’s more glamorous ambassadors, given that bald eagles are the national bird and serve as spiritual symbols for many Native American peoples. Atsa, whose name means “eagle” in Navajo, arrived at Lindsay in 2016 when she was 13 from a Missouri bird sanctuary. She was rescued as a young eagle from a narrow ravine in northern Wisconsin, two weeks after a windstorm destroyed her nest. Her parents apparently kept her alive by dropping food to her. Unfortunately, the delay in rescuing her meant that her broken wing never healed properly. In her aviary at Lindsay, Atsa gets around by jumping from branch to branch on powerful legs.
Among many things, she represents one of the great success stories of the American environmental movement. The U.S. population of bald eagles plummeted in the 1960s and 1970s, due to DDT. Once the pesticide was banned and the species was fully protected under the Endangered Species Act, bald eagle numbers rebounded to the point that they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
The museum at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday at 1931 First Ave. in Walnut Creek. Admission is $13-$15; https://lindsaywildlife.org/.


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